Good Advice Tried and Tested

Cathay Pacific B777-300ER business class

26/11/2013

CHECK-IN

This is a review of the outward flight from London Heathrow. For the return flight (a day flight rather than overnight), click here).

Cathay Pacific offers online check-in 48 hours before departure with this flight, so I had checked-in on the Saturday but didn't print my boarding pass.

I arrived at London's Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1900 for the 2040 departure on CX256 to Hong Kong, a flight of some 11.5 hours, although this changes according to the season and, in fact, this Sunday flight was 10 hours and 30 minutes.

I went to Zone B at Terminal 3 where there was no queue at the desk and dropped off my bags, then took the escalator upstairs and was through security in a little over five minutes. The airport was busy, but not unpleasantly so, and I walked around the shops before heading off to the Cathay lounge.

THE LOUNGE

Cathay has two lounges at Heathrow T3 – business and first class. The easiest way of finding them is to head for Zone C.

There's an elegant glass sliding door you aren't sure will open until you stand in front of it, and then you take a lift up to the first floor. The lobby area is reminiscent of the lounges at Cathay's hub airport at Hong Kong International, minimalist but with the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows out onto the apron.

Cathay Pacific lounge London Heathrow

The business class lounge is to the right - down that corridor in this photo), and the first class lounge to the left (to the right in this photo), with both lounges sharing the washrooms and showers.

I went to the First Class lounge because I am Emerald in Oneworld. There are several seating areas, all with views out through the windows. The lounge has been redesigned since I was last there with the working area for computers removed. Strangely, there was a passenger standing by the drinks area with his laptop charging, so he had to keep moving whenever anyone wanted ice for their drinks.

There's a good choice of cold and warm food, including various noodle options for order, just as in the Hong Kong lounges. Free wifi allows you to work or surf the web, and there is a large screen television which was showing Strictly Come Dancing.

BOARDING

I left before the flight was called and walked to Gate 18. As I neared the gate, passengers from an arriving flight crossed the corridor in front while myself and several others had to wait for them to pass. This has happened to me before - a member of staff closes the doors across the corridor and then passengers disembark the aircraft. Only when they are all disembarked are we then let through to continue our journey to the gate.

There was no queue at the gate itself and I walked to the sign indicating where business and first class passengers would board. Within five minutes this was opened and I was one of the first onto the aircraft.

Once at my seat I was offered a choice of water, orange juice or champagne, but no-one offered newspapers or to hang my jacket, so I stowed it in the overhead locker.

THE SEAT

Cathay has a few different configurations of the B777-300ER aircraft on this route. This was the three-class configuration, with no first class, so on entering the aircraft you are straight into business, which rather oddly starts at the front with row 11. For a seatplan, click here.

Business class is in two cabins, in a 1-2-1 configuration (A-DG-K). I was in 18G towards the back of the first cabin in a centre seat (all seats are aisle seats in the sense that you have direct access to the aisle.

Cathay Pacific international business class

The seats in the front cabin are in rows 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18 and then row 19 is just A and K (rows 13 and 14 are omitted). Note that these final two seats not only are close to the galley but also have no windows.

In the second cabin, there are four rows in the centre starting at 20 and three rows at the side, starting at 21, with a single washroom on the left-hand side. The seats in both cabins are all identical, although 11D and 11G have their IFE screens in the bulkhead in front, while all other IFE screens are in the seat in front and are at an angle, so you have to press a release button to view them once they have swung out.

For the front cabin, the washrooms are both on the left-hand side of the aircraft, and one of these (the furthermost left one, the other being in the centre of the aircraft) is quite large so good for changing in.

All seats are angled slightly, so window seats face a window. The middle seats (D-G) are angled inwards, but have been cleverly designed so you are not forced into making eye contact with your neighbour.

For centre seats, I was surprised to see that there didn't seem to be a privacy screen between the seats but, instead, if you keep open the door of the cupboard that has the headphones in, you gain a little privacy by default. One point here though is that when the galley is in darkness, if your neighbour puts his screen back into its take-off position but leaves it on, the ambient light shines right through onto the person sitting in the neighbouring centre seat.

The seat has a real sense of space to it, both in terms of how wide it is and also the general privacy and "airiness" of the design. Since the seat is angled sideways, there is a triangular bit of seat cushion to one side between the seat and the armrest. This armrest is lowered for take-off and landing, but is really a psychological thing since the seat is so wide you would have to be very wide yourself to manage to rest your elbow on it. The crew do tend to bang into it when they wheel the trolley up and down however, so it's a good thing it is there.

The seat reclines to meet a footrest, and if you only partially recline the seat this brings it into reach of your feet for a comfortable reading position, or one from where you can watch the IFE screen, which pops out from the angled back of the seat in front.

All the controls for the seat and the IFE are in a convenient position to one side at shoulder height, along with a reading light which has two levels of brightness, and the in-seat power (UK plug) and iPod USB jacks are here as well.

There is a large storage space beneath where the table appears from – though this has to be left empty for take-off and landing, and the table itself is good and firm, and did not move at all as I typed on my laptop. It also slides out from the armrest and slides back in, so you don't have to lift it up into a vertical position to put it away and can get out of the seat by only pushing it slightly to one side — a nice touch.

There is also a side table next to this where you can store a lot of things during the flight and even a small area to one side of the seat near the floor with a sliding door, which is a good place to put your shoes. I didn't put anything else in there because it would be too easy to forget it.

Cathay Pacific international business class

 

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Drinks and food are served starting from the front row, and since service was attentive but a little slow, that might be an advantage if you want to get some sleep or are just hungry or thirsty. There is the risk of some noise from that area, however.

THE FLIGHT

We pushed away on time, while watching the safety video which was very quiet, although you could just about hear it. There was then a slight delay before we began to taxi and during this wait a passenger got up from business class to use the toilet, and was allowed to do so. In fact, we didn't take off until 2110.

We were given a smart, Agnes B amenity bag with a striped design containing Jurlique products (it used to be Murad products) as well as show horn, eye mask, ear plugs and flight socks.

The IFE system is extremely good. The touch screen is crystal sharp, the noise-cancelling headphones excellent, and the sound very clear and responsive with the controls.

I've seen most of the recent crop of Hollywood films – the choice isn't huge on this system – as a result of many long-haul flights in recent weeks, but Cathay has a good range of Hong Kong films which are fun to watch. The only downside is the adverts that have to be watched before each film. There are several of these and they grow tiresome if you jump about in the menu watching the first five or ten minutes of the films. I went back to World War Z with Brad Pitt out of curiosity to see if the plane crash had been left in (it had been edited out of a version I watched on Etihad a few weeks ago), but it was the same edit.

The drinks service reached me at 2200, which was a little slow, and the orders for food were not taken until 2230, which is very slow, especially since the flight was shorter than normal. In fact, I think the crew might have been slightly rattled by the flight being one hour shorter than normal, and this slowed things down.

The second cabin is served after the first, so if you are in those rows expect the wait to be prolonged. The menu was as follows:

Starter

  • Peat smoked Scottish salmon with crayfish terrine and fennel salad
  • Mixed salad with beetroot, sunflower seeds with red wine and balsamic dressing

Main course

  • Szechuanese chicken with yu huang chilli sauce, steamed rice and Shanghaiese pak choy with garlic
  • Confit of pork side with broccolini and potato apple gratin
  • Prawn curry with cumin basmati rice and mushroom palak
  • Spinach ricotta tortellini with gorgonzola herb cream and puttanesca sauce

Dessert

  • Fresh seasonal fruit
  • Wild berry and yoghurt crunch
  • Cheeses - Wensleydale, Fourme d’Ambert, Brie
  • Pralines
  • Tea and coffee

Wines

  • Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne
  • Saint-Veran Pierre Andre 2011 (white)
  • Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (white)
  • Chateau Hanteillan Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2010 (red)
  • Murray Street White Label Barossa Shiraz 2008 (red)
During the flight snacks were also available, including assorted finger sandwiches, wontons in noodle soup and ice cream.

Service was a little haphazard. The starters were meant to be served with bread (there was butter on the tray) but things were slow and the bread came after a five-minute wait, by which time I'd finished the starter.

The salad was without taste, the crayfish terrine also bland. I asked for some salt and pepper, as there was none on the tray, and this was brought but I'd finished by then.

There was a further long delay for the main course – perhaps 15/20 minutes, and this was brought round on the trolley and therefore wasn't very hot by the time it got to me at the back of the first cabin. I chose the chicken, which was a small portion but tasty.

The tray was then taken away and the trolley came round again with the cheese, but not the desserts. By now it was 2330. The meal service finally ended at midnight. Around one third of the cabin had already gone to sleep.

The seat is easy to get into a bed position since there is a preset control for this, so I reclined it, fastened the seatbelt over a thick duvet and slept for five hours.

The cabin was quite warm (fine by me), and I found the seat comfortable, although it does have a ridge where the seat back has reclined to be flush with the seat cushion.

The cabin seemed very quiet during those hours, and certainly most people seemed to sleep, although I was surprised when I woke up that someone in a window seat had their blind up causing a lot of light to come into the cabin (I'd had an eyemask on). Also, there were quite a few people sleeping in a reclined position in the seats rather than fully-flat, which always makes me wonder if they know how to operate the seat.

As an aside, the passenger opposite me didn't have a clue with the seat, constantly asking for help as to how to operate it, complaining it wouldn't go upright when he ate (it would) or recline properly when he wanted to sleep (because there was a bag in the way). He also claimed the IFE control didn't work (it did). This isn't a criticism of the seat – or the passenger – who was perfectly polite if perplexed, but on other airlines cabin attendants, while welcoming the passenger onboard, can always ask if the passenger has flown with the airline before, and would they like anything explaining. I didn't hear any top tier members being welcomed, or anyone else for that matter.

I got an apple from the kitchen area where there were snacks and fruit available and asked for a coffee, which came as an extremely hot and tasty latte, then worked on my laptop. The seat has so much room around it that it's possible to spread out without any problem.

I didn't find anything I wanted to watch on the IFE system but in each section — Music, TV, Movie — there is a "Just Added" area, so I put on some music (London Symphony Orchestra Nielsen, Symphonies Nos 2 & 3, Sir Colin Davies) which then played through the headphones while I put the Outside camera view on the screen (wideview) and watched the landscape pass by for the final couple of hours to Hong Kong, although the screen went to sleep every few minutes I had to tap on it to awaken it.

At around one hour and 50 minutes to go, breakfast service began. As an example of the service, how this is announced is with a flight attendant standing above you with a table cloth. So I lifted up my laptop, they put it on the table, and I carried on working. There is then a pause of some five-ten minutes, while they disappear and carry out further preparations. The trolley then appears at the front of the cabin and works its way towards you.

The breakfast menu, which included a bread basket and tea/coffee, was as follows:

Starter

  • Orange or apple juice
  • Mango and passion fruit smoothie
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit or natural yoghurt
  • Assorted cereals

Main course

  • Cheese omelette with pork and apple sausage, roasted potatoes, grilled Roma tomato and red onion
  • Mushroom crepes with tomato relish
  • Congee with prawn and scallop

It was too early for me to have another meal but I had some juice, fruit and some cereal, as well as a cup of tea.

ARRIVAL

The captain came on 30 minutes before landing to give an arrival time of 1535, some 45 minutes early, the local weather forecast and thank us for flying with Cathay. On the IFE screen we were told the arrival gate number 48, baggage carousel reclaim 12.

VERDICT

This business class seat is one of the best. It has everything — room, comfort, direct access to the aisle, in-seat power for working and reclines to a roomy bed.

I think the only way things could be improved is if there was a bit more of the personal touch to the service. I was addressed by name when I was served my food, but there was no attempt at interaction by the cabin crew with any of the passengers in our cabin, and there were precious few smiles either, although there were some.

It wasn't unfriendly, just anonymous, and during the near three-hour meal service not particularly organised or efficient. You got the sense that if they just had a huddle before the flight they could work out better ways of doing things, but perhaps there's a set programme they have to follow.

Still very good, though, and individually the staff were all pleasant.


FACT FILE

  • PLANE TYPE B777-300ER
  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2-1
  • SEAT WIDTH 21in/53cm
  • SEAT LENGTH 82in/208cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • CONTACT cathaypacific.com


Tom Otley